Does Coffee Have An Umami Taste? Answered!

Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world. The taste profile of coffee is usually associated with the four “basic tastes”: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. I’d say most people are able to taste sweet and bitter in their coffee, and in some coffee’s sourness or acidity is present. Salty less so.

The fifth basic taste – umami – is usually not dominant in coffee. But does that mean that coffee can’t have an umami taste?

The short answer is: YES, coffee can have an umami taste. All coffee contains a certain amount of glutamic acid, the protein building block neccesary for giving food or drinks an umami taste. Light roasted coffee beans from the indo-pacific region will have the most umami forward taste.

Pretty interesting. Umami is usually not associated with coffee, but its building blocks (glutamic acid) are present.

There is a bit more to tell, and there are some tips for achieving a more umami tasting coffee.

Let’s dive in…

Does coffee have an umami taste?

What is Umami?

We all know the primary basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. These we we experience quite often in our everyday food and drink. Umami is considered the fifth sense, and literally means “essence of deliciousness” or “pleasant savory taste” in Japanese. Umami is made up of glutamic acid, which is an amino acid that is part of the building blocks of proteins.

Umami was discovered by a Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda in 1907. His wife had prepared him a bowl of boiled tofu in kombu dashi, which is a broth made with dried kelp. Fascinated by the flavor, he became convinced that there was more than sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

Ikeda used his scientific knowledge to extract this flavor from the kelp his wife used. The white crystals he extracted are what we now know as monosodium glutamate, which captures the essence of the savory taste of umami. Monosodium glutamate has become a popular, if somewhat controversial, seasoning known as MSG. (add link?)

The taste profile of umami is best described as “savoriness”. Umami falvors are strong in things like soy sauce and fish sauce, but also in seared meats, mushrooms, and yeast extracts (such as Marmite).

Umami taste in coffee

Umami taste is rarely associated with coffee. At least traditionally. In recent years several “cuppers”(professional coffee tasters) have explored the umami taste profile in different varieties of coffee beans.

For coffee to have an umami taste it needs to contain glutamic acid or glutamate. Almost all coffee has some glutamate, but it is possible that the umami taste is overpowered by the other flavor compounds in the coffee bean.

However, there are some varieties of coffee that has a higher amount of glutamic acid. Especially coffees from the ind-pacific region. In this region Indonesia is by far the most well-known coffee producer. In the section below we list some specific varieties that have a high amount of glutamic acid, and should provide a more forward umami taste.

A key factor in achieving a more umami taste in coffee is the roasting process. The darker the roast, the more of the coffee beans flavor compounds and aroma are “burned off”. So, besides getting a type of coffee bean with a higher amount of glutamic acid, it is also advisable to get a lighter roasted coffee.

Coffee varieties with a more umami forward taste profile

The coffee varieties below have been specifically identified as being more umami forward.

Papua New Guinea AA Arokara: This coffee offers a citrus acidity taste with a rich, savory profile.

Myanmar Ywangan Washed: It has a creamy body, milk chocolate, sweet orange, earthy taste, a hint of hemp and malt.

Myanmar Green land Estate SL34: Has a tangy, milky, and chocolate flavor. Its body is creamy and sweet with complex, tangy acidity.

Papua New Guinea Keregera: This coffee has a smooth and sweet body with complex acidity. The taste is similar to a dark berry flavor and chocolate flavor with a superb finish.

Conclusion

To me it is really interesting to find out what the range of flavor profiles is you can find in coffee. I will be especially on the lookout for umami flavors in my coffee. You can find them!

Coffee can definitively have an umami taste. It only depends on where the coffee beans come from, and how they were roasted.

To summarize: if you are looking for that umami flavor in you coffee, find a lightly roasted coffee from the indo-pacific region. 

Caffeinated greetings,

Monsieur Coffee

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